Friday, November 16, 2012

Farewell, old friend

It was a tough decision.
I knew she felt kind of sorry about it, because I overheard her talking to a friend on the phone one day.
"You hate to say goodbye to a part of your family," she said. "But with the mess and everything, it's just time to pull the plug."
Yep, she felt bad.
I did, too. But mostly I was just glad she wasn't talking about me.
What she was referring to was the giant 60-foot evergreen tree that has grown near our big old house for as long as I can remember. It was a behemoth when we moved in nearly 25 years ago, and has grown and grown and grown ever since.
It was one of the first things I liked about the house when we first looked at it.
"Look, the place even comes with a Christmas tree," I said.
Of course, this house means a lot more to me than high ceilings, square footage and a big tree in the front yard. It is, in fact, the house where my mother grew up.  it became a part of my family’s history when my immigrant grandfather came to town in 1909, looking for a chance to open his own business and start a new life for his growing family. He rented a room in this house, then eventually bought the place and set about turning it into a home. It was originally built in the 1860s by Peter Larson, whose wife was the daughter of Olof Johnson, the Bishop Hill trustee who named Galva. When gramps bought it, he thought it it was already in need of a facelift and some improvements, so he added a garage topped with an upstairs addition, expanded the kitchen, and changed the appearance of the front from Victorian to something a little more modern-looking for the time, with a wrap-around porch, columns and a gently sloping overhanging roof.
My mother and her two brothers grew up in the house as part of an extended family that included her parents and various aunts and uncles. My grandfather’s business thrived, the family became a solid, well-liked part of the community, and life was good.
The stock market crash of 1929 created a ripple effect that had severe consequences throughout the county, even in small towns like Galva. Chief among them was a lack of what would now be called "cash flow." Very quickly, my grandfather's successful business was deeply in debt. My mother would later tell me that he was unable to bring himself to press the neighbors and friends who owed him money, as he knew they were unable to pay him. The end result was that his business failed and my grandparents were eventually forced to leave their home and adopted hometown.
For over fifty years, the house was occupied by other families until, in the mid-80’s, it went on the market just about the time we were looking for a larger, better-located home for our young family. I thought, at first, that it might remind me too much of what became a sad chapter in my family’s life. But, we chose to make it our own, thinking, correctly, that it could also become a symbol for the wonderful way life sometimes works out. It was a great place to raise our two sons, and a place our grandchildren always seem glad to visit.
But then there was the tree.
Members of the pine and spruce families grow pretty quickly, so it was probably planted after mom's family left the place. But as long as I can remember, it's been a part of the look of the property when seen from the street that divides our yard from beautiful Wiley Park. We cut and gather fronds and branches at Christmastime and used it as a landmark when we gave directions to where we lived.
"It's the big tan house with the white columns and the giant tree in front."
Problem was, it grew too much.
From what was probably just a pretty little tree that served to add some interest to the northwest corner of the house, it grew both up and out until its middle branches overhung the porch roof and the entire thing loomed over our home, leaving us to wonder and worry about what would happen it it ever fell. It kept our lawn, roof and gutters clogged with needles, while serving no real useful purpose other than as a veritable interstate highway for the neighborhood squirrels.
Finally, we decided it had to go.
It was, of course, way too much of a job for me, but It was a pretty slick project for Galva's Ron Modesto, "the tree guy," who spent the morning and part of the afternoon trimming off all its branches before efficiently sectioning off and felling a towering trunk that finally measured over thirty inches across at its base...a pretty big Christmas tree, indeed.
I confess, I had some mixed feelings while he did his work, wondering if maybe we had been too hasty in deciding to cut the tree down. I know neither of my sons were entirely happy when they heard the news, remembering the tree as an often-interesting element in their front yard ballgames and an everpresent part of the home they grew up in.
But mostly, I wondered if I was going to miss it.
It has, after all, always been there. For as long as we've lived in this house, that tree was there to greet me, whether I was coming home after a long day and drive back when I commuted to Peoria, or now, when we arrive at the place we love after time spent traveling and visiting friends, family, kids and grandkids.
Yes, I think I will miss the sight of that big tree. But I know I'll get over it.
After all, we're still here.
And so are the memories.

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